CHICAGO (WLS) — The Tommy guns of St. Valentine’s Day are considered the most notorious weapons in Chicago crime history.
They are two priceless submachine guns, fully automatic, that produced a rat-a-tat-tat forever associated with Chicago. The ABC7 I-Team recently examined those guns, traveling just east of Chicago to where they’re kept. They last were used in a brutal and still-unsolved gangland hit where seven men were cut down by a spray of 70 bullets.
Thompson submachine guns, known as Tommy guns were sometimes called “Chicago typewriters” because the clatter of rapid shots sounds like an old-time typewriter. They were combat weapons invented in the World War I era that were repurposed by 1920s Chicago gangsters Al Capone and Bugs Moran.
“These guns are like the Holy Grail,” said Chriss Lyon, Al Capone historian and author of “A Killing in Capone’s Playground.”
The two Tommy guns are priceless, according to collectors of crime relics, because of what happened in a Lincoln Park cartage company used by the Bugs Moran North Side crime gang.
At 10:30 am on February 14, 1929, the garage was invaded by four Al Capone operatives, according to mobologists, an enemy hit squad including two men wearing Chicago police uniforms. The submachine guns were equipped with drum and stick magazines that could hold dozens of rounds of ammo. At gunpoint, they ordered the Moran gang to line up against a brick wall and opened fire. Seven men ended up dead in these Chicago shots heard ’round the world.
“It is one of the longest unsolved murder mysteries. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence and obviously we hold the two Thompson submachine guns that were proven be used, but we it’s never been proven who actually fired them,” said Charles Heit, a Berrien County Michigan undersheriff.
Across Lake Michigan from Chicago, the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department has had the two Tommy guns since 1929, but has never been able to charge anyone with the city’s most famous Outfit hit.
The sub machine guns were found in a Michigan home 10 months after Valentine’s Day. The homeowner was a known criminal and had killed a police officer during a drunken traffic stop.
“It was something that my grandmother told me about when I was about six years old. She always would ask if I knew about the police officer that was killed by a gangster from Chicago in 1929. And of course, I had no idea,” said Lyon.
Author Chriss Lyon tells the I-Team that Capone-connected crook Fred Burke had killed St. Joseph, Michigan patrolman Charles Skelly on December 14, 1929. In a then-groundbreaking use of ballistic testing, authorities had linked two Tommy guns found in Burke’s house to the unsolved St. Valentine’s Day mass murders in Chicago.
“This was a huge breaking case for the nation and it really did put ballistics on the map as a new science,” said Lyon.
Fred Burke went to prison for killing the police officer, but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him-or anyone else-with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a gangland story that still fascinates people almost a century later.
“We’re standing here talking about something that happened almost 100 years ago. Why do you think this particular thing has endured and people look at it as if it’s not ancient history?” asked ABC7’s Chuck Goudie.
“Yeah, it’s amazing. I am still baffled to see that there is such an interest still in the 1929 from the 1929 era…. We reflect on Chicago, we reflect on the prohibition, we reflect on Al Capone. Al Capone is known throughout the world. And even today if you ask anybody about Al Capone, they’re going to know about the Chicago connection and they’re also going to connect it with the St Valentine’s Day Massacre,” Lyon responded.
Authorities are certain that the two Tommy guns were last used in a crime on Valentine’s Day 1929, when those seven men were lined up against a wall and executed. But, the submachine guns were used before the notorious Chicago massacre.
Authorities say ballistic testing has revealed at least 20 people were gunned down by gangsters with those very guns over the years-lives ended from Brooklyn to Detroit. The last things those victims saw in life were the barrels of what would become the Tommy Guns of St. Valentine’s Day.